Saturday, September 15, 2012

Review: Bare Witness - reversing the gaze of war photojournalism

Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre (14 September 2012) presents a La Mama Theatre/Fortyfive downstairs's touring production.

Bare Witness
confronts, distresses and challenges perceptions of war journalists. We have all – to various degrees – seen the war in Iraq, the Balkans, and East Timor play out on our screens, radios and newspapers. But how often do we stop to think about the people providing such harrowing images, soundbites and quotes?

A short byline is all we get, and an edited snapshot of what a journalist sees. But, is the photo staged? Did the photographer manipulate the position of that lifeless body for dramatic effect? How did interviewing a mother grieving over her son’s lifeless body affect the journalist? Do they have nightmares?

Bare Witness
presents fictional yet plausible snippets of war journalists’ life. From the infrequent calls home to see how mother is doing to the fear of hiding in enemy territory while a shower of gunfire opens up outside, the play takes the audience on an at times literal and at other times abstract journey through the motions of war.

Some scenes (directed by Nadja Kostich) come across as too abstract to the point that meaning is lost, but, on the whole, contemporary movement combined with prose is an effective mode of storytelling. The Casula Powerhouse is a larger and more conventional theatre than the original staging in Melbourne’s 45 Downstairs, but the creative team make a good effort to preserve the rough and gritty nature of the play in its new venue.

With a strong cast (particularly Daniela Farinacci as Dannie) – albeit with some questionable accents – and a strong concept, Australian playwright Mari Lourey’s work makes for a valuable night at the theatre. Valuable because Bare Witness fulfills one of the most important roles of theatre: to make an audience think by taking them out of their comfort zone and challenging the way they understand and make meaning of the world.

Bare Witness
asks the important question: who bears witness to those journalists who bear witness to the victims of war? Journalists risk everything to tell the horrific stories of the disempowered who are used as political pawns by their governments, but who is telling the journalist’s stories?

As the show's symbolism suggests -
like wolves, journalists hunt in a pack searching for meaty news pieces to send home to their hungry audiences. Yet, if the pack prowl too close to enemy territory where the juiciest cuts are, they become the hunted. It’s our job as an audience to track those movements and bear witness to their successes, failures and sacrifices.

Bare Witness runs at the Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre from 14-15th September

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